Sunday, April 17, 2016

Daeheungsa, a Seon Center for Buddhistic Philosophy

Daeheungsa on Duryun Mountain in Jeollanamdo is a major Seon center for teaching Buddhistic philosophy for the Chogye order. Daeheunsa means "Great Flourishing Temple" and is said to have a history spanning more than a millenium. There's a bit of head-scratch on who the founder is as three monks have been named as the temple's possible founders: Venerable Jeonggwan in 426, Monk Ado in 514 and National Preceptor Doseon during the Baekje Dynasty (18 BCE - 660 CE). According to Joseon Dynasty records, the temple flourished then at its highest peak, which is ironic as common oral history discounts the acceptance and adherence to Buddhism during the Joseon period. That said, this temple is in the southern-most regions of Jeollanamdo, one of the most remote regions at the time during the dynasty (and even afterwards).

Great Master Seosan (1520 - 1604)

The temple preserves robes and bowls of the Great Master Seosan, his name meaning "West Mountain" because he resided at Mt. Myohang for a long time. (He is also known by his Dharma name, Hyujeong, not his secular name Choi Yeo-sin.) In fact, to commemorate Seosan's patriotism and heroic battles during the Japanese invasion of 1592 King Jeongjo bestowed the honorable signboard of "Pyochungsa" upon the temple in 1789, making it one of the homes of "Korea's patriotic Buddhism". The temple also nurtured 13 patriarchs and 13 teaching masters following the Dharma lineage of the Great Master Seosan, bringing together both Seon (meditation) and Gyo (scriptural) schools. Since, the temple lays claim to being called "the Buddhist scholastic center of the whole country".

Great Master Seosan

A Great Master carried a staff used for transferring Dharma. The staff is his symbol of power and when he speaks, he first raises the staff over his head, briefly holds it horizontal to the ground, then lowers it to the ground in a vertical position before laying it on the ground in front of him. Only then will he speak Dharma wisdom.

The whisk was used much like that in Jainism, to respect the animal world and sweep the bugs and insects and spirits in front of him out of the way so as not to step on them or give harm to their life.
Seosan was orphaned early but was able to go to the capital to study thanks to the patronage of a local administrative chief. At 15 he applied for the state examination but failed to pass, so took to the road. In his wanderings he met Sungin Jangro in Jiri Mountain and became his apprentice. Following that he became fully ordained by Ilseon and was taught by Seon Master Buyong Yeonggwan (1485 - 1571). At 33 he passed the state examination for Buddhist monks and by 36 was a Great Master in Seon practice, eventually rising to the highest monastic position of Great Master of Doctrinal Studies and Seon Practice. He later renounced all titles and dedicated himself to teaching disciples in Geumgang, Duryun and Myohang Mountains.

Accused in 1589, the 22nd year of King Seonjo's reign, of being involved in Jeong Yeo-lip's uprising, Seosan was imprisoned but upon being proven innocent was released by King Seonjo's decree. The Japanese forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea three years later, and when the capital was sacked and the court fled to Euiji, Master Seosan, at the age of 73, answered King Seonjo's desperate plea and accepted the position of National Monastic Chief and rallied the whole Buddhist community to the challenge of defending the besieged country. His disciples became a catalyst in forming monk militias all across the country, eventually numbering 5,000. 

Monk soldiers under his command distinguished themselves at the siege of Pyeongyang and retook the capital. Master then Seosan stepped down from his position, passed the responsibilities to his disciples Samyeong and Cheonyoung and returned to Mt. Myohang.

In 1604, at the age of 85 he entered pari-nirvana at Wonjeok-am Hermitage. After greeting his 85th new year's day, he bathed, garbed himself in full monastic regalia, and summoned the Sangha of Tt. Myohang to hold a Dharma Assembly. When the Assembly was over, he picked up his funerary portrait and wrote on the back "This is me 80 years ago. I am this 80 years afterward." Then he settled himself into a lotus position and quietly closed his eyes, and according to text, the room was filled with fragrance which did not dissipate for 21 days. His cremated remains were enshrined in funerary stupas and erected in Bohyeon-sa, Ansim-sa and Daeheung-sa Temples. His golden ceremonial robe and bowl were sent to Daeheungsa Temple according to his will and are still extant today at the temple along with the funerary stupa. His writings include: Seonga geuigam, Seongyoseok, Seongyogyeol, Unsudan and Cheongheo dangjip. Seosan is particularly venerated as he left a great book for practitioners to read and know how to lead a great life.

Cultural Properties

The temple is a wealth of cultural properties. The temple compound consists of the North Court, South Court, and Annexed Court. In the North Court are found the Daeung-bojeon Hall and the 3-story Stone Pagoda of Eungjin-dang (Treasure No. 320). One thousand smiling Buddha statues (Local Tangible Cultural Property No. 52) are enshrined in the Cheonbul-jeon Hall (Local Tangible Cultural Property No. 48) of the South Court where the Yonghwa-dang Hall (Local Tangible Cultural Property No. 93) is also situated. In the Annexed Court are the Pyochungsa Shrine (Local Monument No. 19; the shrine built in 1669 by King Hyeonjong to honor Master Seosan's patriotism and achievement as a reviver of Seon Buddhism at Daeheung-sa Temple), the Daegwangmyeong-jeon Hall (Local Tangible Cultural Property No. 94) and the Buddhist Treasure Museum. Also housed are he Buddhist cultural treasures: the Seated Buddha Image inscribed on the cliff at Bukmireuk-am hermitage (National Treasure No. 308) about 1.5 hours walk deeper into the mountains, the 3-storey Stone Pagoda of Bukmireuk-am hermitage (Treasure No. 301) and the Stupa of Great Master Seosan (Treasure No. 1347).

The temple is very proud of the image of the seated Buddha near Bukmileuk-am hermitage (National Treasure No. 308). The hermitage is about a 1.5 hour hike deeper into the mountains behind Daeheungsa, but the museum at Daeheungsa has a replica (pictured below) scaled down to 50% the size of the original which was about 4.85 meters in height and 3.5 meters wide on a 8 by 12 meter cliff face. Four heavenly beings also in relief make offerings to him. This image is one of the oldest remaining works of this kind from the Goryeo Dynasty and is considered one of the largest and most artistically accomplished pieces from this period. 

History of Tea Culture at Daeheung-sa Temple

Haenam, the area in which Daejeung-sa Temple is located, is listed as one of Korea’s tea producing districts both in Sinjeung dongguk yeoji seunglam, revised and published in 1530, and Gosacholyo by Eo Suk-gwon, a scholar from the mid-Joseon Dynasty. Yeojidoseo and Gosainseo also describe Haenam’s tea cultivation. The first person who wrote about the tea of Daeheung-sa Temple not as a part of topographical surveys was Cheongheo Hyujeong in his book Cheongheodangjip. Either Cheongheo or Master Seosan must have been exposed to the tea drinking at the temples in Jiri Mountain and Daejeung-sa Temple. By the time Master Seosan was teaching at Daeheung-sa, tea grown in Duryun Mountain in Haenam must have been an integral part of the monastic life. Poems on tea written by great masters and teachers of Daeheung-sa following Master Seosan confirm tea drinking as part of meditation practice.

Out of 13 Great Masters of Daeheung-sa, seven Masters left tea poems while two out of the 13 Great Teachers of Daeheung-sa left tea poems. The 13th Great Master, Choeui Euisun, was the most prolific on composing about tea. He wrote 25 poems in 29 verses, two essays as well as the two books Dongdasong and Dasinjeon.

The philosophy of Korea's tea drinking culture started to develop during the Silla Dynasty, but its influence can be traced back to the Korean Buddhism traditions promoted by Wonhyo, the many poems and books on tea by Lee Gyu-bo and Jeong Mong-ji of Goryeo, and by Master Seosan. 

 The Four Arts: Poetry, Calligraphy, Painting and Tea

In Joseon Korea, those who were experts in the arts of poetry, calligraphy and painting were referred to as the virtuoso of three arts. Seon Master Choeui was exceptionally gifted at all three as well as being an esteemed master of tea art as a means of meditative reflection and artistic expression.

Almost all of the extant Buddhist paintings at Daeheung-sa Temple and nearby temples in the Haenam area are attributed to Seon Master Choeui, attesting to his artistic mastery.

Seon Master Choeui (1786 - 1866)

Seon Master Choeui's painting of Avalokitesvara of 42 Arms at Daeheung-sa is a great masterpiece, designated Tangible Cultural Property. He also administered dancheong for the Vairocana Hall, the Dharma Hall and the Thousand Buddha Hall at Daeheung-sa (then Daedun-sa). He painted the landscape of Dasan’s hut, scenes from tea offering ceremonies, and the images of arhats and the Avalokitesvara at Mihwang-sa in Dalma Mountain. Seon Master Choeui’s calligraphy is not limited to a particular style, but his works exude vigor, creativity and unpretentious beauty. In his lifetime, as a poet he composed over 180 poems, but his literary genius spanned many different genres and he was a prolific writer—funeral orations, messages for ridge-beam-raising ceremonies, and prefaces and eulogies to books of other Buddhist authors. Diversely talented, he excelled in many subjects and fields—Buddhist painting, dancheong, music for Buddhist rituals and preparation of temple cuisine. Seon Master Choeui left his encyclopedic knowledge in his book Subangbo, the content of which ranges from robe making, temple food recipes, orchid cultivation, landscaping, medicine, fortune telling to carpentry and pottery.

Born in Jeollanamdo to the Jang family of the Heungsun clan, he later took the Dharma name Euisun and wrote under the nom de plume of Choeui. At the age of 5, he almost drowned in a rapids but was rescued by a passing monk who recommended to him a monastic career. At 15 entered monk apprenticeship at Unheung-sa Temple in Naju city and received full monastic precepts at 19 from Wonho at Daeheung-sa (then Daedun-sa). Particularly gifted as a painter and calligrapher, his calligraphy was praised as "flowing as naturally and graciously as the seamless garment of heavenly maidens", an expression used to describe pure beauty with no trace of artifice. Sochi Heoryeon, the most famous Korean painter of the modern era, was his student.

Regardless of people's religious backgrounds, he was a good friend to many of the greatest scholars of his time including Wondang Kim Jeong-hee. At 39 he restored Ilgi-am Hermitage behind Daeheung-sa and wrote many books such as Choeui seongua, Dongsasong, and Dasinjeon there. in 1866 at 81 he sat in a full lotus position facing the west and entered pari-nirvana, 66 years after entering the monkhood.

The Story of Jang-gun Saem

It seems that temple grounds are so busy listing their tangible properties and giving them names and dimensions that the smaller stories that flesh-out a place get lost. Daeheung-sa has a story based on old traditions and cultural folk beliefs that makes the temple grounds more reflective of the people who visited. Jang-gun saem is a small spring of water bubbling from an underground pool a few meters from Choeui's statue.

Jang-gun saem is said to have been cool in summer and warm in winter, and once a year the spring flowed so abundantly that it created a pond in front of a temple. The water rose and dripped from protruding corners of the temple. At approximately midnight a temple monk drank the water and was cured of all of his diseases. Since, as long as people can remember, this spring has been regarded as the best for boiling down herbs and brewing tea. The name of this spring was derived from Yun Sundo (who was a Korea poet, scholar, high-ranking bureaucrat and politician during the Joseon kingdom. When he saw the wisdom and spirit of the monks in this temple, he thought that the water of this spring made them like that, so he drank the spring water every day without skipping a day, naming the spring "Jang-gun" meaning "general". [Perhaps the name implies the power of mental acuity of great leadership, but the actual reason for naming isn't clear. Too bad, but great folk story.]

The Summary

After the invasion of Korea by the Japanese in 1592 Seon Master Seosan stated that Daeheung-sa was never to suffer from by samjae, the three disasters of wind, flood and fire, and it should never be destroyed so as to remain the center of Buddhist spirit and ideals. He asked that his own ceremonial robes and monk bowls and his relics should be kept there, which has been carried out, and Daeheung-sa has prospered since. Although the Joseon government attempted to suppress Buddhism, Daeheung-sa managed to produce thirteen Seon Monks as well as thirteen high monks of education (Great Teachers) to become the leading Seon Buddhist center. It was also the place where Seon Master Choeui, regarded as the person who re-introduced Korean tea culture, met the great thinkers of the time who exchanged their views on the ideas of the doctrines of Confucianism, Buddhism,and realism, and discussed their poetry, paintings and tea flavors.

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